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When the economy is in flux, think flex

by | Nov 9, 2022

Piggy bank surrounded by question marks: when the economy is uncertain, using flex talent can help.
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If there’s anything business leaders learned during the Covid pandemic, it’s flexibility. Over the years, we adjusted to working from home, doing with less and honing the ability to adjust to changing circumstances at a moment’s notice.

As we move forward in a complicated economic recovery, with tight budgets, hiring freezes and downsizing, these lessons remain just as important as ever.

Building a layered workforce that includes flex talent can help your company maintain that flexibility and allow you to navigate the economic uncertainty of the moment with agility and resilience.

Here are three ways to think about flex talent as you prepare for 2023.


1. Get the work done despite shrinking talent budgets, hiring freezes, and layoffs


With so much uncertainty, corporations are looking to save money. And one of those line items is people. In fact, approximately half of the 700 companies in a recent PwC survey say they’re considering, or already have been, shrinking their workforce. We’ve all seen the evidence in the endless LinkedIn posts about layoffs from big, global brands.

Contradictory economic indicators aren’t helping. Mallory Vachon, senior economist at LaborIQ, explains that job openings, stronger-than-expected employment gains and unemployment rates near historic lows represent positive changes. On the other hand, record inflation, rising interest rates and uncertainty abroad create a confusing climate for business planning.

Marie Lamonica, client partner at We Are Rosie, confirms that the economic ambiguity is leading to belt-tightening across the marketing industry.

“We’re seeing a lot of layoffs right now (in marketing departments) in order for companies to hit their bottom lines,” she explains. “But the work still has to be done.”

Enter flex talent, a critical part of a layered workforce strategy, and one of the many strategies that has proven especially useful for We Are Rosie’s clients in times of uncertainty, inflation and flux.

“With all the economic uncertainty, this model allows us to do more with less by adding resources when they are needed versus a traditional staffing model with yearly contracts,” says Maryleen Emeric, Chief of Staff for Modern Work Marketing at Microsoft, a We Are Rosie partner.

While the hourly rate of a freelance or contract hire might be higher than usual, with flex talent you don’t need to factor in benefits like health insurance or paid time off. The money for freelance hours can often be found in project or non-salary budgets, which sometimes means you can hire even when there’s a hiring freeze.

That’s the allure of flex talent; it offers a flexible commitment and lower financial risk.

“If the company finds the hire to be valuable, they can extend contracts or move them to different projects,” Marie explains. “If a division finds the last project took less hours, then the next one can be adjusted down in scope, but it can easily be expanded as the need for more support arises.”


2. Prevent burnout and turnover among your “survivors”


If layoffs are in the cards for your organization, it’s important to acknowledge and work to reduce the negative effects for the folks who haven’t lost their jobs—especially in today’s still-competitive job market.

Talent retention is one of the biggest current challenges for companies, notes economist Mallory. During the Great Resignation, many workers left jobs for better paying or more flexible positions. And The New York Times recently shared data that indicates the strong labor market is only recently starting to cool.

So how do you keep the people you do need? One way is ensuring against burnout, especially for remaining employees after staff reductions.

Research has shown that layoffs result in less creativity for the “survivors,” while stress, burnout, and turnover increase among this group. And recent surveys by business consultants at Deloitte demonstrate that burnout is a major issue for nearly half of Gen Zs and Millennials interviewed. The company’s Women@Work 2022 survey found that at least 40 percent of the women looking for a new employer cited burnout as the top factor.

“For those employees left to do the work after layoffs, flex talent can help provide some burnout relief,” Marie explains. A short-term or part-time hire can help finish projects or fill the gaps so that employees aren’t pressured to work long hours on an ongoing basis or forgo creativity-boosting time off.


3. Bring an infusion of fresh ideas and greater inclusion to your team


An added value of flex talent: the ability to bring in high-level expertise you might not otherwise be able to afford, with experienced folks able to parachute in for projects or initiatives. Specialists that range from branding experts to UI designers and data analysts are looking to make an impact without the long-term, full-time commitment of being an employee. They can assist your core team with deadlines, project sprints, or need-related consulting expertise.

Maryleen Emeric’s team at Microsoft finds this element of the flex model particularly attractive for highly visible marketing moments, including top-tier events that require specific expertise as well as burst capacity.

“We can staff with seasoned marketing talent during surge times,” she says. “And it helps us augment these moments with hyper-specialized marketing skills that our full-time employees may not have within their teams.”

More generally speaking, new voices come with fresh perspectives on your products, processes, and branding—a game-changer when you need to do more with less. Not to mention, a flex talent strategy makes it easier and less risky to try out talent that might lack the pedigree of a world-class brand or agency but has the transferable skills and passion to do the job well.

As We Are Rosie founder Stephanie Nadi Olson says, “Creating a layered workforce is one very important strategy in developing a truly inclusive organization. And major bonus points because it will make you more innovative, resilient, and profitable as well.”

Ready to add flex talent to your marketing team? We’re here to help. Learn more about the different ways we work with our partners.

Wendy Pierman Mitzel is a freelance writer specializing in copywriting, editing and social media management. When she's not working, you can find her at yoga, on a plane to visit her many kids, at a good restaurant or in the backyard playing ball with her dog. Follow her on LinkedIn or Facebook or visit her website.

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